Esaki’s Pilgrims at the Daibutsu

For nearly three decades after the first Japanese postal cards were issued in 1873, their printing and distribution were strictly controlled by the government. Only with changes in postal codes in 1900 could private publishers start printing and selling their own postcards. Importantly, and for the first time, these privately issued cards could bear images on the obverse, thus being termed “picture postcards” (ehagaki 絵葉書). Previous government-issued specimens were printed blank to accommodate a sender’s written message. Moreover, the growing use among Japanese print shops of inexpensive collotype printing meant photographs could be easily reproduced for this new medium. Many early photographic postcards are reproductions of images originally created and sold in Japanese photography studios, as is the case with the examples here.

Figure 1Esaki 01a.JPG

 

  • Title/Caption: DAIBUTSU AT KAMAKURA
  • Year: 1900-1907 (postally unused)
  • Photographer: Esaki Reiji 江崎礼二 (1845-1910)[?]
  • Medium: collotype print on cardstock, hand-tinted
  • Dimensions: 5.5 in X 3.5 in
  • Reverse Imprint: Union Postale Universelle. CARTE POSTALE, 萬國郵便聯合端書

This postcard depicts the Kamakura Daibutsu, scaled to fit in the upper-left corner of the card [Fig. 1]. The blank space on the right side was reserved for a written message; Japanese postal code required the reverse side to be reserved solely for the name and address of the recipient. Once messages could be included on the reverse in 1907, postcard images were regularly scaled to fit the entirety of the obverse side.

For artistic flourish, the publisher of our card employed a subtle trompe-l’œil, making it appear as if the corner of the photographic image is curling off the paper. Visual illusions such as this would make the postcard stand out among a sea of similar imagery. Printed in large block lettering, the caption clearly denotes the subject of the photograph, the “Daibutsu at Kamakura.”

Figure 2

Esaki 02a

  • Title/Caption: 451 [or 461] DAIBUTSU AT KAMAKURA
  • Year: 1900-1907 (postally unused)
  • Photographer: Esaki Reiji 江崎礼二 (1845-1910)[?]
  • Medium: collotype print on cardstock, hand-tinted
  • Dimensions: 5.5 in X 3.5 in
  • Reverse Imprint: Union Postale Universelle. CARTE POSTALE, 萬國郵便聯合端書

Another postcard employs the same photograph. Here, the image covers a larger portion of the card, but lacks the trompe-l’œil effect [Fig. 2]. Additionally, the caption is much smaller and incorporates an identifying stock number, 451 (or possibly 461). It is of note that a caption which incorporates a stock number with a title is characteristic of prints made by Japanese photography studios of the 1880’s and 1890’s. By comparing this stock number to known lists gleaned from published Japanese studio albums, it appears likely the original photograph was taken by Esaki Reiji 江崎礼二 (1845-1910), a famed Tokyo-based photographer.[1]

Esaki apprenticed under the pioneering photographer Shimooka Renjō 下岡蓮杖 (1823-1914) in 1870 before opening his own studio in 1871 in Asakusa Park.[2] He soon established himself as a technical master, among the first of Japanese photographers to adopt the new gelatin dry-plate (zerachin kanpan ゼラチン乾板) technique in 1883 and executing technically difficult pictures of a naval mine detonating in the Sumida River (1883) and night-time exposures of a lunar eclipse (1884) and exploding fireworks (1885). The shorter exposure times of the dry-plate process also allowed Esaki to more easily photograph fidgeting children, an expertise he proudly displayed in a famous collage of more than 1700 young children and infants (1893).[3]

Figure 3

Esaki 01 pilgrimsThe photograph of the Daibutsu by Esaki (or one of his studio assistants) depicts the bronze statue from the southwest corner, an uncommon, but not unprecedented angle. More relevant to the site’s religious heritage, the photograph shows a line of Japanese pilgrims (jinreisha 巡礼者) in front of the Daibutsu, easily identified by their broad circular sedge hats and walking staffs carried over their shoulders [Fig. 3]. The mise-en-scène is more relaxed than reverent. The lead pilgrim, who holds his hat in his hand, appears to read the small rectangular sign perched on the pedestal (which, coincidentally, forbids climbing on the statue), while his fellow travelers casually stand conversing with one another. Only the temple priest by the offering table glances directly towards the camera.[4] This mundane expression of religious piety stands in contrast to the highly orchestrated images of devotion sometimes staged by Western photographers. Significantly, the distinction between Japanese pilgrim and tourist is often blurred, as both can engage in similar activities at a pilgrimage site, including visits to the temple souvenir shop.

Although faded, the hand-tinting is still visible in both cards, with the slate blue colossus overlooking his faithful visitors. The elements in the scene suggest this photograph was taken in the late 1890’s.[5]

Figure 4

Esaki 01b

Esaki 02b

The reverse of both cards is bordered by an ornamental filigree-like design in burgundy ink [Fig. 4]. These are examples of “undivided back” cards, since no line yet separates the areas on the back where the correspondence and address would later come to be written. This functions now as an easy identifier for dating old postcards, with these dating between 1900 and 1907. Since it was not yet common for publishers to imprint their names or trademarks on the back, it is difficult to tell who printed these beautifully rendered cards.

Notes:

*This is part of a series of posts devoted to exploring the development of a visual literacy for Buddhist imagery in America. All items (except otherwise noted) are part of my personal collection of Buddhist-themed ephemera. I have also published my working notes on identifying publishers of Meiji and early Taishō postcards and establishing a sequential chronology for Kamakura Daibutsu photographs.

[1] Stock lists for Esaki’s studio do not include numbers 451 or 461, but numbers 452 to 460 are all images of Kamakura, specifically Hachiman Temple, the Daibutsu, and the lotus ponds in Kōtokuin (the temple that houses the Daibutsu). See Bennett 2006a: 129. Unfortunately, almost all attributions to Esaki and his studio remain tentative and more work desperately needs to be done on his photographic oeuvre.

[2] For Esaki’s biographical information, see Bennett 2006b: 165 and here and here. Several Japanese resources note his name as “Ezaki,” but I follow the standard English “Esaki,” which is also how he promoted his studio on photographic mounts and in other published materials (the older “Yesaki” can also be found).

[3] This image was also sold in the United States through Sears & Roebuck catalogues.

[4] Closer inspection reveals a young boy towards the far right of the photograph, holding his hat in his hand, also possibly peering towards the camera

.Esaki 01 boy

[5] I have seen postcards of this image cancelled in January 1902, setting a firm terminus ante quem for the photograph. I have also seen a third postcard, oriented vertically, bearing this same photograph.

Underwood & Underwood’s Cleveland Cruise Portrait

On October 16, 1909, the S.S. Cleveland left Hoboken, New Jersey on the first commercial around-the-world cruise. American tour operator, Frank C. Clark, chartered the Cleveland from the German operated Hamburg-American Line, leaving the east coast with a party of 650 passengers and traveling eastward through the Suez Canal before making landfall in San Francisco three months later on January 31, 1910. Because the Panama Canal was four years away from completion, the passengers completed the last leg of the around-the-world tour via train, returning to their origin point on the east coast. Thus, although Clark’s cruise was not a complete circumnavigation of the globe, the public and press treated it as such. Five days after landing in San Francisco, the Cleveland re-crossed the Pacific Ocean to start a second around-the-world tour, this time carrying more than 750 passengers. Clark’s pair of world tours generated significant amounts of publicity, with thousands appearing in San Francisco to send the ship off. The Cleveland made several subsequent trips between 1912 and 1914 until the advent of World War I interrupted access to the German-owned vessel.[1] The standard itinerary for trans-Pacific cruises of the period included a longer stopover in the port of Yokohama. Here, passengers could go ashore and enjoy the local sites, including a visit to the Kamakura Daibutsu.

One of the most popular publishers of stereocards, Underwood & Underwood, took advantage of these widely marketed luxury world tours and assigned a stereo-photographer to accompany the guests aboard the Cleveland to chronicle the trip. These new stereophotographs then became stock in Underwood & Underwood’s massive catalogue of Japan views and marketed to the general public.

Figure 1

SVKD011uu.JPG

  • Title/Caption: 298-Daibutsu, Kamakura, Japan
  • Year: 1913-1914
  • Photographer: unknown
  • Publisher: Underwood & Underwood
  • Medium: sliver gelatin print; mounted on curved slate-colored card
  • Dimensions: 7 in X 3.5 in

According to the account of R. H. Casey, a passenger aboard the Cleveland during its fourth trip across the globe which arrived in Japan on February 24, 1913, the tourist excursion trips were a sight to behold. Two hundred and forty passengers boarded a train to Kamakura and rode rickshaws from the train station to the temple of the Daibutsu, traveling en masse through the narrow roads of the rustic city’s backcountry.[2] This feeling of mass tourism is captured perfectly by our unknown photographer’s view, showing a cluster of nearly fifty people crowded in front of the Daibutsu [Fig. 1]. Almost all of the visitors are mounted atop the stone foundation or posing in the lap of the colossal statue. This posturing of gazing towards the viewer reflects a long-standing photographic tradition of collecting exotic “trophies” by being pictured in front of one’s cultural conquests.

The card itself does not identify the party as originating from the Cleveland, but an adjacent card in the Underwood & Underwood catalogue (number 247, Fig. 2), does identify a large group of tourists perched along the tall stairway of Hachiman Shrine as traveling aboard the Cleveland. Moreover, a close inspection of these two photographs reveals the same individuals are depicted in both.[3] Thus, we can safely assume the visitors to the Daibutsu are among the globetrotters aboard the Cleveland.

Figure 2

SVHS001uu.JPG

It is difficult to determine which around-the-world cruise this group of people joined. Photographs from the initial pair of Clark’s trips, between 1909-1910, show the Daibutsu site displaying a picketed fence and gabled roof on the coin offering box (saisenbako 賽銭箱), elements that appear – to my eye – to be missing in this stereoview.[4] It is possible this image was taken on one of the second pair of cruises, landing in Yokohama in January and February 1913, having departed from Hoboken and San Francisco respectively.[5] A fifth, and likely final, cruise aboard the Cleveland was scheduled to depart the east coast in January 1914 on a 93-day voyage to San Francisco, with no scheduled “return” trip.[6] Thus, it appears this photograph of the Daibutsu could have been taken during one of these three trips during 1913 or 1914.

In contrast to the other Underwood & Underwood view of tourists atop the Daibutsu, this composition has the feeling of formal portraiture. The visitors are spread out symmetrically along the ground, statue, and stone base, with most looking sternly at the camera lens. As around-the-world cruises became more popular in the interwar period, these large group photos also became more common, sometimes being used in promotional material for the cruise company. The photographs of the 1860s and 1870s that depicted small groups of intrepid travelers (and mostly men), were now festooned with tourists who draw as much attention to themselves as the statue in the background.

Notes:

*This post is in honor of my father, may your curiosity in the odd live on through me.

*This is part of a series of posts devoted to exploring the development of a visual literacy for Buddhist imagery in America. All items (except otherwise noted) are part of my personal collection of Buddhist-themed ephemera.

[1] The Hamburg-American Line advertised heavily for the Cleveland’s first trip through the Panama Canal, scheduled to disembark from Hoboken in January 1915 and bring passengers to San Francisco to celebrate the Panama-Pacific Exposition. I have found no evidence that this trip took place, and given that Germany was in the midst of war by the end of 1914, the excursion was most likely to have been abandoned by the Hamburg-American Line. Accounts of the previous completed trips, where the above information was extracted, can be found in Frizell & Greenfield 1910, Junkin 1910, Bush 1911, Forbes 1912, and Casey 1914.

[2] Casey 1914: 29. According to Casey, they also visited the Kaihin Hotel.

[3] The easiest to spot is the sole hat-less man with coiffed white hair and mustache. A second man in a brimmed newsboy hat and white beard is also easily identified in both.

The distinctive plumes in women’s hats also leads to several relatively easy identifications (not pictured). Moreover, Underwood & Underwood Japan-series cards issued with numbers in the 290’s all appear to be issued from the Cleveland cruises.

[4] The photograph by amateur photographer F. H. Wellcome and published in the travelogue of Frizell and Greenwod clearly shows the gabled coin box. (see Frizell & Greenwood 1910: 49).

[5] These dates are noted in Forbes 1912: 27 & 29. Forbes took two trips around the world, starting in Hoboken and travelling eastward until ultimately landing in San Francisco, where he then joined the “return” voyage, heading westwards until back in Hoboken

[6] The Cleveland would have needed to be back in Hoboken for its widely publicized trip leaving in January 1915 (see note above). It is possible the Cleveland left San Francisco and headed for the Panama Canal, testing the crossing without passengers before returning in January. This tour was operated by the Hamburg-American Line directly and Clark would not make his fifth trip around the world until after the war in 1924, when he chartered the S.S. California.

References:

  • Bush, George Tome. 1911. 40,000 Miles Around the World. Howard, PA: N.P.
  • Casey, R. H. 1914. Notes Made During a Cruise Around the World in 1913. New York: N.P.
  • Forbes, Edgar Allen. 1912. Twice Around the World. New York: Fleming H Revell Company.
  • Frizell, William G. and Greenfield, George H. 1910. Around the World on the Cleveland. New York: N.P.
  • Junkin, Paul S. 1910. A Cruise Around the World. Creston, IA: N.P.

 

Renjō’s Daibutsu: A Pioneer of the Path

Often called the “founding father of Japanese photography,” Shimooka Renjō 下岡蓮杖 (1823-1914) was a true artistic pioneer. One of the first Japanese to practice commercial photography, Renjō (a self-styled nickname) was also likely the first oil painter and lithographer in Japan.[1] His personal reminiscence, recorded in 1891, claims his fascination with photography began when he saw his first daguerreotype in 1844 in Edo (now Tokyō). He then spent the next ten years trying to find a photographer who could teach him the craft. According to his own account, which is held in suspicion by modern scholars, in 1856 Renjō had a secret meeting with Henry Huesken (1832-1861), the translator to the American general consul at Shimoda, to learn the basic principles of photography. Regardless of the veracity of this story, Renjō opened the first Japanese commercial photography studio in the port city of Yokohama in 1862.[2] His business soon prospered and he apprenticed several of the next generation of famed Japanese photographers, including Usui Shūzaburō 臼井秀三郎, Suzuki Shin’ichi (I) 鈴木真一, and Suzuki Shinichi (II) 鈴木真一. A considerable majority of Renjō’s surviving photographic oeuvre consists of small format cartes de visite, several of which depict the bronze Daibutsu located in Kamakura, not far from his studio in Yokohama.

According to several Western travelers and tour guides from the 1860’s, the original pathway leading to the Daibutsu was a long, stone-paved walkway, tightly flanked by tall evergreen trees and ornately pruned shrubs. For some, the most picturesque view of the Daibutsu was looking down through this long pathway of greenery towards the statue at the end. By the early 1870’s, however, the temple landscaping had undergone significant renovations and the pleasant framing effect of the towering trees was lost. Algernon Bertram Mitford (1837-1916), secretary to the British Legation, described his two contrasting visits to the Kamakura Daibutsu:

“The first time I saw [the Daibutsu], in the autumn of 1866, the approach to it lay along an avenue of grand old evergreen trees, and the effect of the colossus, when seen from the beginning of the avenue, was most striking. Now, unhappily, the trees have been cut down by the avarice of the priests, who grudged the little bit of soil which might bear a few more vegetables, and who took advantage of the revolution to pretend that the trees had been destroyed by the soldiery. The beautiful coup d’oeil is lost, but the figure must always rank among the most wonderful monuments of the world.”[3]

Regardless of the reason behind the removal of the trees, the change in environment certainly altered the viewing experience of the Daibutsu, which was now left in an open grove.

Figure 1

 

  • Title/Caption: NA (Diabutz [sic] on reverse)
  • Year: 1869-1871 (dated Oct. 7, 1871 on reverse)
  • Photographer: Shimooka Renjō 下岡蓮杖 (1823-1914)
  • Medium: albumen silver print, mounted on card
  • Dimensions: 3in X 2in (cartes de visite)

Interestingly, while the early written accounts of visiting the Daibutsu often included a vivid description of the “avenue of grand old evergreen trees,” the surviving photographic record rarely included this aesthetic aspect. Renjō was one of only a few commercial photographers who placed his camera rig far enough away from the bronze statue to incorporate the tree branches that converged on the walkway.[4] [Fig. 1] It remains uncertain if the rarity of this composition is due to a technical consideration of early photography (such as problematic lighting) or the resulting visual product which creates a cramped and partly obstructed view of the Daibutsu. If the latter case, the long row of trees and shrubs which undoubtedly added a sense of depth and scale to the in-person viewing experience is lost in the two dimensional space of the photograph. In the image above, a lone Japanese individual faces directly towards the camera, taking a wide, aggressive stance. This ultimately creates a sense of tension between the image and the viewer.[5]

Figure 2

APKD Renjō Reverse mark.jpgThe back of the cartes de visite is stamped by Renjō’s studio mark in indigo blue [Fig. 2]. The hand stamp depicts two serpentine figures twisting around a pair of trees and peering into two pots. The peak of Mt. Fuji and the top of a thatched roof also appear the background. This specific imagery appeared to Renjō in a dream when his business first started to turn profitable, thus he decided to honor his vision by incorporating it into his studio mark. The Japanese characters, written in a variant script (itaiji 異體字), simply say, “Yokomaha, Renjō Studio” (横浜 / 蓮杖斎).[6] The handwritten inscription at the top of the card notes the date as October 7, 1871, thus providing a firm terminus ante quem for the photograph. This possibly represents the date an unknown tourist visited the site. The popular name for the Daibutsu in the foreign port city of Yokohama in the 1870’s, “Daibutz,” is also imprinted at the top of the card, with an accidental inversion of the a and i (not all too uncommon a mistake).

During his professional photographic career, Renjō moved his studio to several locations, but never seems to have accumulated great wealth. In the mid-1870’s Renjō ended his commercial photography exploits and moved to the new capital of Tokyō (behind Sensō-ji 浅草寺) where he returned to his previous profession as a Western-style oil painter.

Notes:

*This is part of a series of posts devoted to exploring the development of a visual literacy for Buddhist imagery in America. All items (except otherwise noted) are part of my personal collection of Buddhist-themed ephemera.

[1] Bennett 2006, esp. p. 71. A more detailed examination of Renjō’s life can be found in Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography 2014. Some also credit Renjō with inventing the rickshaw (jinrikisha 人力車), but while this man-powered, two-wheel vehicle first appeared in Japan in the 1860’s, its attribution to Renjō is almost certainly misplaced. For many years, Renjō was considered the first Japanese professional photographer, but recent research suggests this mantle belongs to Ukai Gyokusen 鵜飼玉川 (1807–1887), who opened the first commercial photography studio in Edo in 1860 or 1861.

[2] For analysis of Renjō’s personal account, see Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography 2014: esp. pp. 130-5.

[3] Mitford 1872: 208.

[4] A photograph held in the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, attributed to Felice Beato, contain perhaps the most foliage of any image I have seen [here]. Another image is here.

[5] Another similar image attributed to Renjō and dated to 1873 can be found at the Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery (here). The position of the camera and framing is almost exact, but the figures by the altar are different. Older images by Renjō (still depicting the railing and balusters on the left) can be found at the Tokyo Photographic Art Museum (here & here) and among the Tom Burnett Collection (here). All three are also depicted in Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography: 2014. The Austrian photographer Wilhelm Burger (1844-1920) travelled in Japan for a year spanning 1869 and 1870, and only some of his photographs of the Daibutsu include the railing to the left of the stairs leading to the second landing. Because of this, Renjō’s photograph here must post-date late 1869.

[6] The mark and its origins is described in Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography 2014: 16-7.

References:

  • Bennett, Terry. 2006. Photography in Japan: 1853-1912. Rutland, VT: Tuttle Publishing.
  • Mitford, A[lgernon] B[ertram]. 1872. “Wanderings in Japan,” The Cornhill Magazine, Vol. 25, No. 146 (February), pp. 196-213.
  • Ozawa Takesi. 1981. “The History of Early Photography in Japan,” History of Photography, Vol. 5, No. 4, pp. 285-303.
  • Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography. 2014. Shimooka Renjō: Nihon shashin no kaitakusha 下岡蓮杖: 日本写真の開拓者 [Shimooka Renjō: A Pioneer Of Japanese Photography]. Tōkyō: Kokusho Kankōkai.

 

Tonboya’s Failed Voyeurism of the Daibutsu (Visual Literacy of Buddhism)

After the Meiji Restoration, the popularity of photography began to overshadow traditional Japanese woodblock printing. Increasingly, woodblock artisans came to find employment with photography studios, adapting their technical painting skills to add vivid color to monochromatic photographs. In the beginning of the twentieth century, due to the craze surrounding Japanese picture postcards (ehagaki 絵はがき), artisans continued to ply their trade by adding translucent water-soluble pigments to these small format calotypes. One of the most famous postcard distributers was Tonboya トンボヤ, or the “Dragonfly Studio,” first opened by Yoshimura Kiyoshi 吉村清 around 1905.[1] The Tonboya storefronts in Yokohama, first located in the Isezakichō 伊勢佐木町 district before moving to the more heavily trafficked Motomachi 元町 district, were easily identifiable because of large signboards made to look like red cylindrical postal boxes (yūbin posuto 郵便ポスト) widely adopted in Japan. One side of the signboard had the word “POSTALCARDS” painted on it, while the other said ehakaki エハカキ [sic](“picture postcards”), suggesting Yoshimura catered to both foreign and domestic travelers.[2] One image that would represent the photographic interests of both groups would be the Kamakura Daibutsu, located close to the port of Yokohama [Figure 1].

Figure 1PCKD009t(o)

PCKD009t(r).JPG

  • Title/Caption: Daibutsu at Kamakura. 佛大倉鎌
  • Year: 1907-1918
  • Publisher: Tonboya トンボヤ
  • Medium: collotype print on cardstock, hand tinted
  • Dimensions: 5 in X 3.5 in
  • Reverse Imprint: Union Postale Universelle.[+], 郵便はかき

By setting the camera on the second landing of the paved walkway, this unknown photographer filled the frame with the image of the Daibutsu; positioning the statue frontally and symmetrically, this framing is similar to many of the images produced by Yokohama photography studios. The image depicts three figures, two women and a young child, facing the Buddhist icon in the center of the photograph. This setting might elicit other images of religious piety at this site, but the mise-en-scène is complicated by the presence of two more children, standing at each of the sides, who stare directly at the viewer. Their presence might have been obscured had it not been for the colorist who painted them in light hues of blue and pink. Notably, their casual posturing is stark contrast to staged “photo ops” of foreign travelers who try to visually suggest their domination of the Orient. Because of these elements, on the whole, we are made to feel as if the scene is staged and that we have been caught in an act of  voyeurism. The women and child, positioned center-stage, engage in a orchestrated religious performance while the children at the edges observe us watching them. A rather apt visual metaphor for the Orientalist gaze, where the artist attempts to create a certain controlled vision of the East, but with “unruly” actors foiling the illusion.[3]

This postcard is not imprinted with a trademark to identify the publisher. The black ink and serif font used for the reverse, however, in addition to the guide lines provided for writing the address, all suggest this card was made by Tonboya.[4] In addition, the position of the diving line for correspondence indicates this card was printed between 1907 and 1918. If the image on the obverse was not self-evident enough, bilingual cerulean letterpress (note the impression the reverse) identifies the scene clearly: “Daibutsu at Kamakura.”

Notes:

*This is part of a series of posts devoted to exploring the development of a visual literacy for Buddhist imagery in America. All items (except otherwise noted) are part of my personal collection of Buddhist-themed ephemera.

[1] Several online English sources claim Tokutaro Maeda was the founder of Tonboya, but I have found no Japanese sources that confirm this. I prefer here to follow the print Japanese sources (e.g. Saitō 1985: 1), but leave the question unsettled.

[2] Several early-century postcards depicting the streets of Yokohama show this red cylindrical signboard, as seen here: Red postal sign.pngThe full postcard can be found here (not part of the Archive).

[3] By shooting one woman mid-stride ascending the small flight of steps, this photographer is (accidentally?) paying homage to Enami Nobukuni 江南信國 (1859—1929), but without the overal effects of sterling visual narrative.

[4] The best site for identifying Tonboya cards remains here: http://tamayochankankousya.seesaa.net/article/421306802.html. Another common reverse printing of Tonboya during this period is discussed here.

References:

  • Handy, Ellen. 1998. “Japonisme and American Postcard Visions of Japan,” in Delivering Views: Distant Cultures in Early Postcards,  Christraud M. Geary and Virginia-Lee Webb, eds. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press.
  • Saitō Takio 斎藤多喜夫. 1985. “Yomigaeru shinsaizen no Yokohama fūkei よみがえる震災前の横浜風景,” Kaikō no hiroba 開港のひろば, No. 12, pp. 1, 4.
  • Satō, Kenji. 2002. “Postcards in Japan: A Historical Sociology of a Forgotten Culture,” International Journal of Japanese Sociology, No. 11, pp. 35-55.
  • Yokohama Open Port Museum 横浜開港資料館, ed. 1999. Nen mae no Yokohama Kanagawa ehagaki de miru fūkei 年前の横浜・神奈川―絵葉書でみる風景. Tokyō: Yurindo 有隣堂.

Tonboya’s Onlooker of the Daibutsu (Visual Literacy of Buddhism)

By the end of the nineteenth century the port city of Yokohama had developed into a thriving tourist destination. Consequently, numerous Japanese shops opened to cater to the needs of both domestic and foreign travelers. Perhaps surprising to a modern reader, among the prized goods offered for sale were picture postcards (ehagaki 絵はがき), the first truly commodified form of the photograph which unexpectedly became a collectors craze in the first decade of the twentieth century.[1] Around 1905, Yoshimura Kiyoshi 吉村清, the proprietor of the well-known Tokyō-based publisher Kamigataya 上方屋, started a new venture in Yokohama, called Tonboya トンボヤ, or the “Dragonfly Studio.”[2] The dragonfly was long seen as symbol of courage and strength in Japanese culture, and thus it was cherished by the samurai and bestowed the romantic name of the “Victorious Insect” (kachimushi 勝ち虫). This lore notwithstanding, Tonboya postcards – emblazoned with its distinctive dragonfly trademark – soon became some of the most famous and widely circulated postcards of the period.

Figure 1

PCKD008t(o).JPG

PCKD008t(r).JPG

  • Title/Caption: Daibutsu at Kamakura. 佛大倉鎌
  • Year: c. 1909
  • Publisher: Tonboya トンボヤ
  • Medium: collotype print on cardstock, hand tinted
  • Dimensions: 5 in X 3.5 in
  • Reverse Imprint: Carte Postale Post Card [+],  郵便ハガ[キ]

This image of the Kamakura Daibutsu [Figure 1] highlights the rustic setting of the colossal statue, framing the statue between sprawling tree branches and the silhouette of a sago palm. With the camera placed in the southwest corner, our unknown photographer creates a voyeuristic scene as a man in knee-high mud boots and western attire peers towards group of Japanese visitors from behind a tree. Seeing this observer from behind, we take his perspective and also gaze upon the group of Japanese visitors dwarfed by the overlooking bronze statue. The brightly colored garments of the women on the right stand in contrast to the uncolored gray shades of the men and boy on the left [Figure 2]. The boy wears a school uniform (gakuran 学ラン), a style adopted decades earlier based on French and Prussian military outfits.[3] Among this group, only a single man looks up towards the Buddhist statue. The others stand and stare at each other from several paces apart. The gives an unnatural effect to the scene, as the stationary bodies and odd spacing fails to build up a clear visual narrative. What is the relationship of these temple visitors to each other? What is their purpose for being there? As was typical of cards from this period, bilingual cerulean letterpress informs us as to the identity of the Buddhist figure, the “Daibutsu at Kamakura” (note the imression left on the reverse along the bottom edge).

Figure 2

PCKD008t(men).JPG   PCKD008t(women0.JPG

Often, Tonboya would impress its dragonfly logo at the lower right on the front of the card, but our variant lacks this identifying element.[4] Turning to the reverse of our card [Figure 1], we still fail to easily locate the characteristic mark of the dragonfly. So, just how can this card be distinguished? The designers at Tonboya devised a creative and playful way to identify their publishing studio; they replaced the ki (キ) in hagaki (ハガキ, “postcard”) with a highly stylized dragonfly illustration [Figure 3]. Only the most attentive observer would notice this subtle alteration, but once noticed it becomes an easily identifiable marker of this studio. This creative design can be dated back to around 1909 and remained throughout Tonboya’s existence into the late 1920’s.

Figure 3

PCKD008t(logo).JPG

Notes:

*This is part of a series of posts devoted to exploring the development of a visual literacy for Buddhist imagery in America. All items (except otherwise noted) are part of my personal collection of Buddhist-themed ephemera.

[1] Satō 2002: 41.

[2] Several online English sources claim Tokutaro Maeda was the founder of Tonboya, but I have found no Japanese sources that confirm this. I prefer here to follow the print Japanese sources (e.g. Saitō 1985: 1), but leave the question unsettled. Another unresolved question remains the relaitonship between Kamigataya and Tonboya. It appears that Tonboya may have been a distribution name of postcards printed by Kamigataya (which continued to also publish postcards under its own name). Some sources claim Tomboya opened as early as 1904, other as late as 1907.

[3] The development of Japanese school uniforms are detailed here: http://journal.media-culture.org.au/index.php/mcjournal/article/view/1041.

[4] Tonboya would also often include an identifying letter and stock number in the lower left, but this is also missing in our specimen. It is also possible to find cards with the letter and numbering system, but still lack the dragonfly icon, see here: https://www.maryevans.com [then search for the reference number 10989247]

References:

  • Handy, Ellen. 1998. “Japonisme and American Postcard Visions of Japan,” in Delivering Views: Distant Cultures in Early Postcards,  Christraud M. Geary and Virginia-Lee Webb, eds. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press.
  • Saitō Takio 斎藤多喜夫. 1985. “Yomigaeru shinsaizen no Yokohama fūkei よみがえる震災前の横浜風景,” Kaikō no hiroba 開港のひろば, No. 12, pp. 1, 4.
  • Satō, Kenji. 2002. “Postcards in Japan: A Historical Sociology of a Forgotten Culture,” International Journal of Japanese Sociology, No. 11, pp. 35-55.
  • Yokohama Open Port Museum横浜開港資料館, ed. 1999. Nen mae no Yokohama Kanagawa ehagaki de miru fūkei 年前の横浜・神奈川―絵葉書でみる風景. Tokyō: Yurindo 有隣堂.

To See a Buddha: A Visual Literacy of Buddhism in America (Digital Exhibit)

[This is a online version of my Archive exhibit at the UCSB Religious Studies Department. Many thanks to Will Chavez for his enthusiastic support and assistance.]

UCSB Exhibit

What do you think the Buddha looked like?

My research has been guided by this deceptively complex question. As Americans were first introduced to Buddhism on a mass level in the latter half of the nineteenth century, I became interested in how they also developed a “visual literacy” of Buddhist images. Before the happy Laughing Buddha was popular, the Great Buddha of Kamakura was the most prominent visual icon. This Great Buddha, or in Japanese, “Daibutsu,” was constructed in 1252. Here’s a look of how this statue made its way into the American imagination.

The Albumen Print and Yokohama Shashin

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The popularity of the Kamakura Daibutsu in America was accidental. When Japan re-opened its borders to foreigners in 1859, the port of Yokohama – a short day’s ride from Kamakura – was selected as one of the treaty ports were foreigners could legally reside. The close proximity of Kamakura Daibutsu to this bustling port city was a significant factor in its blossoming popularity.

In addition, two other factors played a role in the recognizability of the Kamakura Daibutsu: the development of the international tourism industry and the invention of the camera. Globetrotting tourists who hoped to preserve their picturesque travels in souvenir photographs unwittingly helped promote a visual identity of an exotic Japan back home in America, with geisha, rickshaws, and Buddhist “idols,” such as the Kamakura Daibutsu.

Because of the sheer number of wealthy tourists in Yokohama, professional photography studios started to open their doors for business. These studios, operated at first by foreign residents, sold souvenir albums to fit the needs of their eager clientele. These souvenir photos were called Yokohama shashin, or “Yokohama photographs,” due to the high concentration of studios in this port city.

Adolfo Farsari (1841-1898), an Italian adventurer, eventually settled in Yokohama in the 1870s. Farsari entered a fiercely competitive photography industry when he bought out an established photography studio to open his own firm, A. Farsari & Co. Like his competitors, he sold photographs and pre-made albums to wealthy “globetrotters” who sought to return home with photographs of famous sites.

The first commercially viable photographic process produced what are known as albumen prints. They used albumen found in egg whites to bind the photosensitive chemicals to the paper.

After the monochromatic print was processed, artists would hand apply watercolor washes to provide vibrant color. Often these artists were Japanese, some who may have been trained in traditional Japanese woodblock printing.

Picture Postcards and the Collotype Process

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Although photography had been in existence for over half a century, some claim that the first truly commodified form of the photograph was the picture postcard. Small and inexpensive, the postcard was a convenient souvenir that could easily be sent around the world for the appreciation and amusement of someone else.

The Japanese postal delivery service began in 1870, but it was not until 1900 that new postal regulations allowed for private companies to print their own postcards. In Japan, the postcard soon rivaled the traditional woodblock print as the favored medium to present contemporary Japanese images.

Early postcard images were commonly recycled photographs from old souvenir photography studios. In 1905, spurred by the international interest in photographing the Russo-Japanese War, a picture postcard boom hit Japan, breathing life into a new industry and collecting hobby.  Still catering to a thriving tourism industry, the private postcard publishers reshot the same generic imagery that sold well as albumen prints, including the Kamakura Daibutsu.

One of the most prolific postcard publishers of the period was the Ueda Photographic Prints Corporation, founded by Ueda Yoshizō上田義三 in the port of Yokohama around 1905. Because printing photos was exceptionally expensive and time consuming, new mechanical photographic reproduction processes were soon invented.  The development of a new printing technique, called the collotype, allowed for photomechanical printing – and the creation of inexpensive postcards – on a massive scale.

Stereophotography and Stereoviews

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Perhaps one of the most curious forms of early photography involved a technique for making stereoscopic images.  By placing  a pair of slightly different images – taken by two cameras separated by about the distance between a person’s eyes – and viewing them through a stereoscope, they would merge and create an illusion of depth, thus mimicking three dimensional viewing.  An early form of virtual reality, stereocards, or stereoviews, became wildly popular by the end of the nineteenth century.

Although some stereoviews were sold in Japan, most stereoviews were sold directly to Americans in department stores, through mail-order catalogues, and by savvy door-to-door salesmen. A surviving manual for salesman instructs them in the “hard sell,” scripting a sales pitch to say: “You see, nearly everyone is getting a ‘scope and views, and really, so should you. One like this will last you all your days.”

Mass produced Japan-themed stereocard sets first started to appear in 1896, but dozens of Japan sets were available just a decade later. These images were no longer tourist souvenirs, but imaginary escapes for people who did not possess the wealth of a world-touring globetrotter. Many of the same images found in Yokohama photography studios and postcards publishers were used to paint an image of the exotic Orient.

In 1903, the novice professional photographer, Herbert George Ponting (1870-1935), was hired by the premier publishers of stereoviews, Underwood & Underwood to take new stereo-photographs of the scenery of Japan. As with many other publishers, he captured the “majestic calm” of the Kamakura Daibutsu.

Originally novelty items that could be paired with parlor games, stereoviews soon started to be marketed as educational tools. Eventually the reverse was filled with descriptive text, often taken directly from tourist books published a decade or more earlier.

From Idol to Icon

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By the first decade of the twentieth century, the image of the Kamakura Daibutsu not only circulated through photographic prints, postcards, and stereoviews –  as we have seen already – but also through numerous travel books, magazine articles, and newspaper columns. The image was so often reproduced that it no longer signified a bronze statue, but an amorphous idea, a veritable icon of the exotic Orient.

It is not surprising that such an icon found favor among early modern advertising firms. The growing tourism and cruise ship industry was one of the early adopters of the Kamakura Daibutsu image. The Pacific Mail Steamship company, the first to offer a regular trans-Pacific route from San Francisco to Yokohama in 1867, used it in its magazine ads. Even the Japanese cruise company, Nippon Yūsen Kaisha (NYK) used the Daibutus in their English-language brochures.

The statue also took on more artistic renderings, gracing the cover for the sheet music to “Buddha,” composed by Lew Pollack in 1918 for a Vaudeville act. Lyrics were added the following year by Ed Rose, and it became a popular “foxtrot” dance record for home enjoyment. In addition, the Daibutsu image was also used to add an exotic quality to mundane home goods, such as incense.

The exotic image was also used as a symbol of foreign danger, and can be found in the background of movie sets, such as the Mask of Fu Manchu (1932), reflecting racist and xenophobic undercurrents of American culture. After WWII, the Daibutsu manifested again as popular souvenir trinkets marketed to overseas soldiers, such as cigar ash trays.

The Kamakura Daibtusu continued to be used widely in American advertising  throughout the 1950’s, before the allure of the Laughing Buddha started to take a firm hold in the American imagination.

Did You Know?

Both the Laughing Buddha and the Great Buddha of Kamakura are not actually images of the historical Buddha!! They are representations of different buddhas, Maitreya Buddha and Amitābha Buddha respectively – consider taking a Religious Studies class to learn about these figures!

Where’s Waldo?: Did you spot the happy, lounging temple dog that was photographed in both a stereoview and postcard in this exhibition?

 

[Thank you for your virtual visit!]

 

 

 

Farsari’s Dai Butsu (Visual Literacy of Buddhism)

 

Adolfo Farsari (1841-1898), an Italian adventurer who ended up fighting for the North during the American Civil War, settled in the port city of Yokohama in the 1870’s and taught himself photography. By the early 1880’s, the Western dominance of the Yokohama tourist photography industry had waned, but Farsari would still become a commercial success. In 1885, he acquired the negative and stocks of the famed Stillfried and Anderson firm and opened up his own professional photography studio, named A. Farsari & Co., on the main street in the bustling port. Like his competitors, he sold photographs and pre-made albums to wealthy “globetrotters” who sought to return home with photographs of famous sites. Photography no longer needed the technical skill it once required, mostly because of the transition to the easier dry-plate process, and consequently the photograph started to transition from a fine piece of art to a commodified object.[1] Farsari’s early successes were almost robbed of him completely, as a devasting fire ravaged Yokohama just a year after he opened his business, subsequently destroying his studio and collection of negatives. Unfortunately, not only were all of Farsari’s negatives destroyed, but also those recently acquired of Stillfried and Anderson, as well those of the pioneering photographer Felice Beato, who was bought out by Stillfried and Anderson in 1877. A year after the fire, in 1887, Farsari reopened his studio with a stock of around 1,000 new images.

Figure 1

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  • Title/Caption: Japan, A. Farsari & Co., Yokohama [photographic frontispiece]
  • Year: c. 1887
  • Photographer: Adolfo Farsari (1841-1898)
  • Medium: albumen silver print, sepia tinted
  • Dimensions: 10.25in X 8.25in

The photographic frontispiece that adorned Farsari’s new studio albums [Figure 1] was an amalgamation of Orientalist visual motifs. Sharply-eaved pagodas, irenic bridges, beautiful geisha, antiquated rickshaws, and the famed Mt. Fuji all cluster around the simple, if not entirely self-evident, title of the album – Japan. In the center of the frontispiece we find the iconic Kamakura Daibutsu [Figure 2], the main attraction for tourists in Yokohama who could take a trip and return from the Daibutsu within a day’s time. Unsurprisingly, this photograph, too, was available for individual purchase [Figure 3].

Figure 2: Close up of Figure 1

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Figure 3

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  • Title/Caption: NA
  • Year: c. 1887
  • Photographer: Adolfo Farsari (1841-1898)
  • Medium: albumen silver print, hand tinted
  • Dimensions: 10.25in X 8.25in

The image of the Kamakura Daibutsu is bold and stunning. Balanced and symmetrically positioned within the frame, its stoic countenance greets the viewer with warmth. One of the characteristic, and marketable, traits of Farsari’s albums were their superior coloring. He boasted that his teams of Japanese painters tinted his photos in a realistic manner and guaranteed the colors would not fade, lasting “as long as ordinary oil paintings.” He attributed the effects to the rigorous trainign of his artists, who would apprentice between two and four months, before they were set to work, and to his  imported British paper. Reportedly, an individual artist under Farsari’s tutelage would only color two to three photographs per day, in contrast to the sixty put out by other studio artisrs. His work earned the praise of the famed novelist and poet, Rudyard Kipling, who complimented the faithful coloring of Farsari’s images once seeing the scenic vistas of Japan first hand on his trip through the countryside by steamship in 1889.[2] The gentle greenish-blue hue of the bronze statue here reflects the blue tinting of the sky above, as well as the garment of the kneeling supplicant, creating a cool, but not frigid, overall feeling in this image.

This photo is commonly assumed to be taken after Farsari’s studio fire in 1886, and was one of the centerpieces of his new collection of images given its prominent position in his photographic frontispiece. Farsari also sold a version of the Kamakura Daibutsu in vertical format [Figure 4], possibly taken on the same photography excursion. The kneeling man remains, but four more people are added in a row and all made to gaze upon the idol, causing the scene to look oddly staged. Our vertical image bears the catalogue number of Farsari’s stock (the horizontal image is sometimes marked with “L19 Daibutsu (A)”) and exhibits coloring that has – in contrast to Farsari’s bold claims – faded.

Figure 4

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  • Title/Caption: L20 DAI BUTSU (B)
  • Year: c. 1887
  • Photographer: Adolfo Farsari (1841-1898)
  • Medium: albumen silver print, hand tinted
  • Dimensions: 10.25in X 8.25in

Always eccentric, Farsari returned home to Italy in 1890, after a twenty-tree year absence, and never returned to Japan.

Notes:

*This is part of a series of posts devoted to exploring the development of a visual literacy for Buddhist imagery in America. All items (except otherwise noted) are part of my personal collection of Buddhist-themed ephemera.

[1] Bennett 2006: 219. Many details of Farsari’s exciting life – of which I am merely summarizing here – are discussed in Bennett 2006: 219-223.

[2] Bennett 2006: 221, 223.

References:

  • Bennett, Terry. 2006. Photography in Japan: 1853-1912. Rutland, VT: Tuttle Publishing.